Avoid 'more of the same,' Portsmouth Abbey graduates told

School graduates 91, including eight from town

Posted 5/28/19

PORTSMOUTH — Dr. John Malcolm McCardell, Jr., who delivered the commencement address to 91 graduates of Portsmouth Abbey School Sunday, compared life’s journey after high school to a …

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Avoid 'more of the same,' Portsmouth Abbey graduates told

School graduates 91, including eight from town

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Dr. John Malcolm McCardell, Jr., who delivered the commencement address to 91 graduates of Portsmouth Abbey School Sunday, compared life’s journey after high school to a question Amazon.com asks whenever one logs onto its website: “What are you looking for?”

“If you are a regular on Amazon (or Netflix) and have ever purchased anything from them, your choices and preferences are recorded,” said Dr. McCardell, a historian and national figure in the public discussion about liberal arts education and student life, and who serves as vice-chancellor and president of Sewanee: The University of the South, where he is also a history professor.  

The next time you log on — or even when you don’t, he said — you are offered more of the same.

“You like history? Well, here’s more history. Ecology? Well, here’s more ecology. Mysteries? Well, here are more mysteries. And so it goes. The effort is to give you more of the same, more of what the sellers believe you want,” he said.

If you purchase a jazz CD, it’s unlikely that Amazon will recommend any bluegrass music, or hiphop or Beethoven, he said.

“As with online shopping, so also with sources of news. Viewers of Fox, I suspect, seldom watch MSNBC, and vice versa. Indeed, not only do they not watch, they tend to disparage as fake news that with which or with whom they disagree,” Dr. McCardell said.

A university experience, however, is just the opposite, he said. “This is perhaps what St. Paul means in his epistle to the Romans: ‘Do not be conformed to things of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds,’” he said.

Dr. McCardell concluded by telling students that he couldn’t answer Amazon’s question for each of them.

“But I hope that what you are looking for includes not more of the same but rather the transforming of your minds, the broadening of your own limited reach of understanding,” he said.

Student speakers

Two of the graduates were chosen by their classmates to be student speakers: Katie Ritchie of New York, N.Y., and Patrick Flanigan of Tiverton.

Katie began her speech by saying the world is increasingly preoccupied with numerical data, and that the Abbey was no different: GPAs, points scored on the lacrosse field, tuition payments, etc., all became part of the measurements that controlled students’ lives.

Numbers cannot, however, tell the whole story, she said.

“Data points do not capture the richness of our time here,” Katie said. “It isn’t about the weeks we spent away from home, it’s about the lifelong bonds of friendship we’ve created with each other. It’s about the houseparents and teachers we’ve grown close to, many of whom have been important role models to each of us. The hours we have spent writing the infamous Dr. Zins lab reports won’t be what we remember. We’ll remember the smile on his face when he hands it back with a well-deserved ’45/50’ scribbled on the top.”

Patrick Flanigan of Tiverton, the other student speaker, began his address by asking himself why he loved the Abbey so much.

“The answer is simple: It's the people — the students, the faculty, the staff, the people here today who make all of this possible,” he said.

He said the small moments, rather than the major events, are the times he values and will remember most. "If you learn to value the moments that don't have ceremonies, the beauty is hidden in those seemingly trivial moments,” said Patrick. 

He encouraged his fellow graduates to thank their families for the opportunity to have an Abbey education. He closed with, "Class of 2019, I love you guys."

Local grads

The Abbey awarded diplomas to 91 members of the Class of 2019, including eight from Portsmouth: Tatum Lee Bach-Sorensen, Jane Sara Dwares, Abigail Rose Gibbons, Malia Payton Mantz, Diane Guadalupe McDonough, Thomas Harold McSparren, Maddy Mercier and Chiara Angelique O'Connor.

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